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Joe Thornton ignores fading Cup chance, predicts Shark attack

PITTSBURGH – Joe Thornton battled through 1,367 NHL regular-season games and 150 playoff games for the chance to finally play for the Stanley Cup. 

There’s a chance his opportunity ends on Thursday night in Game 5 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who can hoist it with a win. If the Penguins fail to close the deal, the odds say the 36-year-old Thornton and the San Jose Sharks will still fall short: Teams that have taken a 3-1 series lead have gone on to capture the Stanley Cup 31 of 32 times since 1939.

Is he worried about his best, and perhaps last, chance at a Stanley Cup slipping away?

“No,” said Thornton.

Not at all?

“No." 

What about the insurmountable odds facing his team?

“I’m just going to try come out and win my first shift. That’s all I’m going to do tonight.”

There’s going to be a lot said about Thornton and his legacy if the Sharks are eliminated, just as there was a lot said about Thornton and his legacy when the Sharks were rolling through the Western Conference playoffs. His status as one of the best NHL players in the last 20 years is cemented; but that legendary status that rightly or wrongly, is bestowed upon players that capture the Stanley Cup hangs in the balance.

At least for those outside of the Sharks’ room.

“He’s won many things throughout his career. It’s a tough trophy to win. Your team has to come together at the right time. But I don’t think it should affect his legacy or whatever you want to put it,” said defenseman Marc Edouard-Vlasic on Thornton.

The only game in which Thornton has scored in the Final was Game 3, in which he had two assists. It’s perhaps no coincidence that it’s the only game that the Sharks have taken in this series.

The Sharks need their best players to excel to survive: Thornton, who’s been held in check; Joe Pavelski, without a goal in the series; Brent Burns, who hasn’t been able to be the same offensive force he was in previous series.

The issue? The Penguins have set up a base camp in the Sharks’ cerebral cortex.

The way they swarm the puck carriers. They way they’ve suddenly morphed into a shot-blocking team. San Jose has gone from carrying the play to being tentative about making them in the offensive zone.

“If there’s an opportunity to shoot we gotta take it. Maybe some our guys are passing up Grade A chances,” said Vlasic. “We want to play aggressive.”

Aggressive was the buzzword ahead of Game 5. So was “attack,” with regard to their offense.

“We’re really good when we attack. Tonight, we need to attack. Play aggressive. Usually when we do that, we have good results. Get back to that,” said Thornton. “When you have an opportunity to shoot, then shoot. When the lane’s there, shoot. But be aggressive. That’s all.”

And, perhaps, get a little of that puck luck they’ve been lacking.

“It’s one little play here. One little save. One little post. It’s frustrating. Bad luck or whatever it is,” said defenseman Brenden Dillon. “But you gotta earn your own luck. If you’re going to go, take your pregame nap and pray that the Hockey Gods help you with a goal from the red line, I don’t think we’d be in a good spot.”

Of course, the Sharks aren’t in a good spot. History is as formidable an opponent as the Penguins have proven to be in this series. The Stanley Cup will be in the building, and the odds that the Sharks will win it  three games from now back in this building are slim.

“Weren’t we counted out in the first round? OK, maybe one out of 100 had us beating LA,” said Vlasic.

“The Cup was bound to be in the building at some point. Doesn’t change the way you play.”

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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